3 Lessons on How to Growth-Hack Like a Pro

Anna Fisher

Growth hacking, which has become all the rage for companies of all sizes, stems from a simple concept in the startup world. Sean Ellis, a seasoned marketing leader, entrepreneur and angel investor, originally defined a “growth hacker” as "a person whose true north is growth.”

The initial idea: Nascent companies, without adequate budget to compete against established brands in traditional marketing channels, must embrace unconventional tactics to build product/market fit and eventually achieve mass user adoption.

Remarkable growth hacking has propelled startups like Airbnb, Instagram, Dropbox and, most recently, Slack to prominence.

Naturally, established companies have taken notice and are seeking similar results. But there’s a problem: Most SMBs and enterprises are risk-averse or crave process – or both.

Both of these qualities are antithetical to growth hacking, which is based on the concept that failure is OK, so long as you can rapidly execute agile, measurable, out-of-the-box tactics that only come at the price of execution.

While there is no right or wrong way to execute a growth hack, I recommend applying these three business-tested lessons:  

Lesson #1: To expand market share, use “what if” analysis to leave your comfort zone and create new opportunities.

Case study: Airbnb: For companies that already have a viable product or service, growth hacking can help drive awareness. The most famous example? Airbnb penetrating Craigslist’s marketplace.

As you probably know, Airbnb is a service that allows almost anyone to convert a spare bedroom into a hotel room for rent. To expand its market penetration, Airbnb reverse-engineered an application program interface (API) that allowed its users to post listings on Craigslist.

This had never been done, mainly because Craigslist’s model prevented it. But Airbnb’s team executed this hack based on its potential payoff. There were no guarantees that the API would work. However, because Airbnb’s listings, which featured quality pictures and detailed descriptions, generally were better than traditional Craigslist ads, Airbnb drove more traffic to its application – at virtually no advertising cost.

Lesson # 2: To define a new market, strategically address problems organizations don’t know they have.

Case study: Slack: Two weeks prior to launch, Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield sent a memo to his development team. Titled “We don’t sell saddles here,” the memo stated Slack’s mission: “Despite the fact that there are a handful of direct competitors and a muddled history of superficially similar tools, we are setting out to define a new market. And that means we can’t limit ourselves to tweaking the product; we need to tweak the market too.”

What did Butterfield mean? He explained that Slack was not just a chat system but a vehicle for “organizational transformation.”

“We’re selling a reduction in information overload, relief from stress, and a new ability to extract the enormous value of hitherto useless corporate archives,” he wrote. “We’re selling better organizations, better teams. That’s a good thing for people to buy and it is a much better thing for us to sell in the long run.”

Lesson #3: To achieve product/market fit, revamp your approach to innovation by using your best customers as your research laboratory.

Case study: ZoomInfo: Taking a page from Instagram, which evolved to focus on photo sharing based on user behavior, B2B market intelligence provider ZoomInfo developed a highly successful expansion of its ReachOut solution to address a customer need it identified.

As originally launched, ReachOut, a downloadable Chrome extension, put ZoomInfo’s  company and direct contact information at the fingertips of sales and recruiting professionals with one-click access from a LinkedIn profile. This easy availability enabled users to save time and improve the quality of their contacts, driving efficiency, effectiveness, growth and profitability.

Later, in 2016, ZoomInfo expanded the convenience – and popularity – of ReachOut by offering immediate linkage from Salesforce to ZoomInfo data and making ReachOut the first solution that similarly turns any corporate website into an instant prospecting tool. Customer response has validated the move.

Following these lessons can help you accelerate your company’s growth, whether your business is just starting out or well-established.

Let us know how these approaches work for you, and share any other growth-hacking tips.    

Anna Fisher is the Senior Director of Marketing and Head of Lead Generation at ZoomInfo, an Inc. 5000 company whose Growth Acceleration Platform combines the most comprehensive and actionable B2B database with integrated tools to help companies optimize sales and marketing effectiveness, jump-start growth and maximize profitability.